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Marcus Aurelius Probus was born in Sirmium in about AD 232. Unfortunately, the sources are unreliable about his life before he became emperor, but it is certainly possible that he was a tribune under the emperor Valerian. Perhaps all that can be said with any reliability is that he served in the military and was on the staff of Aurelian during his Eastern campaigns against Parthia. After the mysterious death of Tacitus in AD 276, Probus was declared emperor by his troops in the eastern provinces but unfortunately, Tacitus' brother, Florianus (Florian), was also promoted to the purple by his legions in the west. The two contenders met near Tarsus but the legions of Florianus suffered from heat exhaustion and the troops murdered the unfortunate Florianus!
Probus in the West: AD 276-279
The new emperor had urgent business to attend to on the western frontiers. He travelled by land to the central European provinces, stopping on the Danube to defeat the Goths. He was awarded the title Gothicus in AD 277 by a grateful Senate. Probus and his generals made a quick visit to Rome but they then had to travel to Gaul. Bands of Germanic raiders, namely Franks, Burgundians and Longiones, had crossed the Rhine and were causing chaos in the province. Probus destroyed the Germans in several battles and sent them back across the river. Furthermore, he enrolled many of the captured barbarians into the Roman army and sent them to Britain - a multicultural society in the third century AD! Probus was awarded with the titles Gothicus Maximus and Germanicus Maximus which must indicate how successful he was in rescuing and rebuilding the province.
Events in the East: AD279-280
Probus had no rest from his campaigns as he had to turn to the eastern provinces in AD 279. He defeated the Vandals who had invaded Illyricum and then he travelled to Lycia in Asia Minor to put down several disturbances within the province. Meanwhile, Probus had sent his generals to Egypt where barbarian tribes had crossed the southern frontiers. They were eventually expelled and Probus decided to embark on a grand reconstruction of the province. He repaired the dykes, canals and bridges along the Nile, something which not been done since it had been completed by Augustus in 27-25 BC. The ancient source Historia Augusta notes, 'On the Nile, moreover, he did so much that his sole efforts added greatly to the tithes of grain. He constructed bridges and temples porticos and basilicas, all by the labour of the soldiers, he opened up many river-mouths, and drained many marshes, and put in their place grain-fields and farms' (9.3-4). The importance of Probus' reconstruction was vital to the Empire as a large proportion of the food supply came from Egypt and the North African provinces.
Revolts and Mutinies... again
Probus was planning to resume the wars against the Persians but he had to cancel his plans due to a series of revolts both in the East and West. Three unsuccessful revolts broke out on the Rhine, in Syria and in southern Gaul but the information which we have is sketchy and unreliable. Furthermore, the sources do not provide much in the way of material to analyze the extent of these revolts and how widespread the feeling was against Probus. There are clues that the revolts were more than local disturbances because inscriptions from as far away as Spain have been found where the name of Probus has been defaced. As bad as the situation seemed, Probus was back in Rome in AD281 to celebrate his victories. After his triumph, he completed the circuit of city walls which had been begun by Aurelian.
Probus left Rome in late AD 282 and proceeded to his native town of Sirmium when news came that Marcus Aurelius Carus, Perfect of the Guard, had been proclaimed emperor. When troops sent by Probus to halt the rebellion went over to Carus, Probus' remaining troops killed the emperor. Probus was one of the most competent and clear-sighted of the late third century emperors, unfortunately, he lived in a time which did not appreciate or acknowledge his efforts.
We show a silvered antoninianus of Probus. The obverse has the usual, for antoniniani, radiate helmeted head of the emperor facing right, with the legend IMP CM AUR PROBUS AUG.
The reverse shows the emperor on the left, facing right, and receiving a globe from Jupiter (Jove), with the legend IOVI CONSERVAT. This is a typical piece of propaganda suggesting that the god Jupiter protects the emperor. A loose translation into a modern equivalent would be "God save the Queen".
Roman Emperors Portrait Gallery
You may wish to visit our portrait gallery of Roman emperors. Although it is not complete, we add new and better coins when we can. We are always keen to buy superior quality Roman coins to upgrade our photo gallery.
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